Chinese students who went home for winter break say their visas to return to the U.S. are being delayed.
Students cited in the Chinese press say that at best, their coursework is lagging behind, and at worst, earning their degrees is in jeopardy if they cannot return to school to complete their studies.
The English-language daily Caixin reports that at least 100 students, many of them in science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs, have organized a WeChat to discuss their plight.
In June, the U.S. State Department shortened the length of visas for Chinese graduate students studying aviation, robotics and advanced manufacturing to one year from five. U.S. officials said the goal was to curb the risk of spying and theft of intellectual property in areas vital to national security.
In November, the Trump administration announced it was mulling whether to subject Chinese students to additional vetting before they attend U.S. schools. The ideas under consideration included checks of student phone records and scouring of personal accounts on Chinese and U.S. social media platforms for anything that might raise concerns about students’ intentions in the United States, including affiliations with government organizations, a U.S. official and three congressional and university sources told the news agency Reuters.
U.S. law enforcement also is expected to provide training to academic officials about how to detect spying and cybertheft, a senior U.S. official told Reuters. The same training is provided to people in government.
“Every visa case is unique, and due to visa confidentiality, we cannot comment on individual cases,” a State Department spokesperson wrote in an email when asked to respond to the Caixin article Friday. “Our screening procedures for all applicants are constantly reviewed and refined to improve security. If an applicant needs additional screening for whatever reason, we will not issue a visa until that screening is complete. The amount of time it takes to complete this additional screening depends on the individual circumstances of each case.”
The spokesperson said Chinese nationals were eligible for five-year visas and that “the majority of visa applicants receive full validity visas.”
However, “regulations authorize consular officers to limit the validity of any visa on a case-by-case basis and as appropriate to the circumstances of each case.”
Slowing rate of foreign student enrollment
While the U.S. remains the top destination in the world for more than 1 million visiting students, a third of whom come from China, the rate of enrollment is slowing, according to the Institute for International Education. The rate of new enrollments, specifically undergraduate students, declined by 6.6 percent last year, a trend first seen the preceding year, according to IIE.
Those students bring $42 billion and 450,000 jobs to the U.S. economy.
China and the U.S. are working to strike a deal to lift eight-month-old tariffs affecting $250 billion of Chinese imports to the U.S., and about $110 billion of American exports to China. American and Chinese trade negotiators made progress during “candid and constructive discussions” Friday in Beijing, said the White House, and will continue talks in Washington next week.